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Zuma faces challenge for ANC leadership


Text by Guillaume GUGUEN

Latest update : 2012-12-18

President Jacob Zuma is widely expected to win a second term at the head of South Africa’s ruling ANC in an internal party vote, but even a victory threatens to widen divisions within the African National Congress.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was vying for a second term at the helm of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) on Monday but was facing a challenge from his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Around 4,500 ANC delegates gathered at Bloemfontein to cast ballots for a new president, with results expected on Tuesday morning. Overshadowed in recent days by news of former leader Nelson Mandela’s hospitalisation, the ANC contest was nevertheless a key moment for South African politics and Zuma was widely considered the frontrunner.

A victory for Zuma would almost ensure his re-election bid in the country’s general election next year, setting him up to rule until 2019. But criticism of his administration has increased in recent months, and the president is already struggling with an increasingly divided party.

A growing list of detractors convinced Motlanthe to challenge Zuma for the ANC’s top post, nominating him for the internal duel on Monday.

The would-be preacher

Motlanthe’s quiet and private demeanor stands in stark contrast to Zuma’s boisterous personality and very public personal life. A former trade unionist, the 63-year-old Motlanthe went into the vote without making a single public campaign speech.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe in 2008, while he was serving as South Africa's caretaker president. © Photo: AFP

He was raised in a township of Johannesburg and joined the anti-apartheid cause in the 1970s. His activities in the ANC’s military wing earned him a 10-year jail sentence at notorious Robben Island. Shortly after the fall of apartheid, he found himself responsible for issues at the heart of the party.

Since then he has built a reputation for complete devotion to the ANC, one that mirrored his onetime interest in entering the clergy.

His commitment to Mandela’s party was on display during the bitter feud in 2007 that pitted former president Thabo Mbeki against Zuma, the man who would eventually succeed him.

Motlanthe was careful to remain neutral during the faceoff, and many have credited him for keeping the ANC united while serving as the country’s caretaker president for eight months.

Nevertheless, Motlanthe has not dodged the allegations of corruption that have nagged the ANC since the party rose to power. In 2004 he faced charges of siphoning almost €1 million from a UN programme but was eventually cleared.

Sowing further division?

While Motlanthe is not expected to win the leadership vote, many fear the man who once negotiated peace in the ANC could now deepen existing divisions.

Zuma supporters have openly expressed fears that a victory for their candidate would push certain members to leave the party, as was the case in 2007.

They are dealing with an increasingly vocal ANC Youth League, which says Zuma has not taken the country far enough to the left.

“We are disappointed that the president has not said anything about the strategic nationalisation of mines,” Youth League interim president Ronald Lamola told public radio Safm on Monday. Lamola has publicly backed Motlanthe in the election.

Date created : 2012-12-17

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